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Why don’t advertisers own NFL teams?

The answer is simple; because the NFL won’t allow it. That would mess with their whole business model. I was amongst the 100 million+ viewers that tuned into Super Bowl LI Sunday night and it got me thinking; why don’t advertisers own sports teams? I mean, really, why not? Think about it…

The Super Bowl is the one event that sports fans don’t mind the constant interruption by commercials, but what about all those other games? The commercials are a constant irritation, and guess what advertisers: Your money isn’t buying as many eyeballs as they did just last year. NFL Ratings dipped by about 8% this year, which is about the same percentage that NFL ad rates increased. Why is that? Because it’s live TV, one of the last bastions of commercial viability.

Forget about the NFL, because it will never happen. It would be letting the Genie out of the bottle. But what if advertisers got together and started their own sports league? What if the $500 million in Super Bowl ad time spent by corporations was instead spent on establishing a sports league where advertisers are the owners.

Last year at Sundance, Laura Henderson, the then global head of content and media monetization at Mondelez told, “If we stay focused on that guiding light of creating content that’s good enough to make money, it is going to help us make sure we’re producing content that people want to watch.” Really? Well, what people really want to watch is grown men beating the crap out of each other on a 100-yard-long field, trying to move a ball from one end to the other. They don’t necessarily want to watch someone jump 25,000 feet from an airplane sans-parachute and (hopefully) land in a 100’ wide net. That show aired on Fox last summer and was called “Heaven Sent". It was funded and executive produced by Stride Gum, a Mondelez “Power Brand.” Did you see it? Probably not. It aired live on Fox, July 30, 2016 and attracted 1.4 million viewers, half of the time slot leader, America’s Got Talent with 2.8 million viewers that night.

Mondelez is not the only brand organization that wants to create content that makes money. Marriott International is marketing short films, Pepsi launched Creators League to “act like a Hollywood Studio” and of course, there is brand-turned-media poster-child, Red Bull.

David Beebe, VP Global Creative + Content Marketing for Marriott International told last year, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and become what they are interested in.” Hello! Football!

Play along with me here for a minute: How would a brand-owned sports league operate? Just like any other sports league, a group of advertisers would get together, make up the rules, fund the league, sell franchises, etc., etc. As a matter of fact, the NFL, on a corporate level considers itself a trade association and up until 2015 operated as a non-profit. Couldn’t a group of advertisers launch a trade association like the NFL and allow corporations to buy team franchises? Where would these teams be based? Nowhere. Everywhere. Brands are global, their fans are global. There would be no home fields, no home field advantage. Games could be played anywhere, like other sporting events, ie; Olympics, PGA Tournaments, Tennis Tournaments, Ski Racing, etc. Two teams converge on a city for a week. Big PR surrounds the event. They play on a neutral field in front of fans from all over. Sort of like SuperBowl but it happens all over the world every week. The League negotiates with venues and builds a schedule that pits teams in stadiums anywhere. Colleges and Universities would enjoy newfound and much needed revenue! Teams, aka advertisers, enjoy the benefit of goodwill for college-aged students around the world. Who would teams attract as fans? Since the team is not dependent upon attracting home town fans, they can focus on the same demo/psychographics their brand(s) already know and aim to attract. Just consider the top ad spenders and what their teams might embody in terms of brand values and personality. Think of your favorite brands and what their football personality and marketing might look like. What would team Apple look like? How about VISA, Walmart, Amazon, Ford, Porsche, Harley-Davidson? You can have some fun with this and so would the brands! What about TV rights? Yea, there’s that, huh? In 2014, the networks signed on for a combined $40 billion in rights fees that expire in 2020. That’s $5 billion per year in TV rights that fills the coffers of the NFL. I don’t know how to do the math on this, but there is some multiple of the $5 billion in annual rights fees that determines annual ad revenue. Anyone? Ferris? But, TV may be too old-school for such a forward-looking sports league. Why not stream each game live and let fans enjoy the game of their choice free every single week? Just download the OTT app! Imagine the Brand Battles. Who would not want to watch as Pepsi takes on Coke, Marriott takes on Hilton, Microsoft takes on Apple, Walmart takes on Amazon, Google takes on everyone. The brand battles would be (I hate to use the word) H-U-G-E. Seriously, it would draw audience bigly! Rather than pitting citizens of cities against one another, these games pit brand fans against each other. Imagine as fans descend upon a hosting location with their game day gear on. What a branding opportunity! What about other sports for brands? Actually, corporations can be owners of MLB teams. In 1992, Nintendo paid $125 million for the Seattle Mariners, a move they claimed was in goodwill to keep the Mariners from moving to Florida. In 2016, Nintendo sold 90% of their holding in the team for $661 million, proving that baseball is content good enough to make money! Three other MLB teams are owned by media companies; Tribune owns the Cubs, Liberty Media the Braves and Toronto Blue Jays are owned by Rogers Communications. Disney once owned the Ducks, Angels and Dodgers.

Wait, what do advertisers know about running a sports franchise? Fair question, but what do they know about creating documentaries or feature films? And, for that matter, what do billionaires like San Diego Charger owner Alex Spanos know about running a sports franchise? Sorry, had to get that in. As an ex-Charger fan I’m just a little bitter. But seriously, brands are full of smart people and can hire the expertise necessary to run a successful sports franchise. Might be far easier than their day jobs, actually. What about the halftime shows? Ah yes, the halftime shows that brands would bring on! Wow. Every game is another opportunity for two brands to team up and out do the competition. Sunday night Pepsi and Lady GaGa set the bar pretty darned high. But, imagine what happens when a brand-owned league brings their talent to bear every week? The halftime shows become another piece of content they own and can distribute after the game.

What if the team is a loser? Hmmm, that might be a problem, but only if your team has no character or personality. Just look at the Cubs. Chicago loves their team more than most cities do even though it took them 108 years to win a World Series. It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Personally, I’d love to see the advertisers suit up and take the field. What do you think?

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